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Photographing Night Time Urban Scenes

Here are a few tips and ideas for shooting photos of urban areas with your Nikkor lens.

| Interchangeable Lenses
Photographing Night Time Urban Scenes: City at night
Photo by David Clapp -

The nights are drawing in again which means most of us are now driving home from work in the dark. It's a stark reminder that winter's on its way but all's not that bad as it does mean you can shoot some nighttime shots in and around your town before you head home for your evening meal.


Time Of Day

It may seem like there's an obvious answer to this but if you want some interest in your sky, you'll want to shoot when the sun's setting or just after it's gone down when there's still enough light to see cloud formations. If you don't plan on having the sky in frame or if you are but it won't be a major feature, shooting a little later on in the evening won't be a problem. If needs be, you can always enhance the vibrancy and colour of the lights in your shot during post production too.

Another good point about shooting earlier is there'll be more traffic around which means you can use longer exposures to blur the movement of car headlights as they move through your shot. This works particularly well when you're shooting from a higher vantage point. Try taking several shots, to get streaks moving through different points of your exposure so you can see, compositionally, which works best.

Shoot Wider

Urban areas generally sprawl across the landscape which makes them perfect for panoramas. All you have to do is move the camera as you shoot and it will automatically combine the shots into a panorama for you. For more control, shoot the panorama manually and stitch it together with software such as Panorama Factory or in Photoshop.

Try to find a spot where you just have the cityscape in the distance as if you have elements too close to your lens, the final shot won't stitch together correctly. For consistency, set your exposure, white balance and focus manually, something you may need to do anyway if your lens keeps searching due to the lack of light when in AF. Try taking a few test shots of various parts of the scene to check the exposure and shoot in RAW if you think they'll need some tweaking in post production. You may also want to try bracketing so you have various exposures that have good detail in both the light and dark areas that you can merge together in Photoshop. This isn't just applicable to panoramas either as you can bracket and merge various aspects from each exposure in other shots too. For example, when you have a scene where the sky's lighter than the foreground detail, take one shot that's exposed correctly for the sky and the other for the foreground then merge them together.

When you start taking your shots, begin either on the left or right side ensuring you leave enough overlap between shots so when it comes to stitching them together, the merge is more likely to be seamless.


If you do bracket your shots and want to combine parts of one exposure with another, one of the easiest ways is with layer masks which you can learn more about here: Layer Masks. You may also have to do some cropping and cloning too to make your shot perfect.

For more tips on combining shots in Photoshop to create a panorama, have a look at this tutorial: Creating Panoramas In CS4

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